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Formal Event – eeekk!!!


Houston, we have a problem!  A BIG problem!

Ok, maybe it’s not a problem, just a challenge, a big one!  My Sea Cadet’s division is throwing their annual awards ball.  Last year, his first year in, I let him go, but we didn’t really make a big deal out of it.  This year, he’s been in a year and has been selected to be part of the Honor Guard (a special unit that does a ceremony honoring the MIA/POW of each military branch is how he explained it to me.)  I want to support him, I am super proud of him BUT….

Two things really…social situations make me all sorts of uncomfortable.  I have NEVER been good with people, small talk, happy hour…none of that.  NEVER.  I get nervous and self conscious and in this situation where I understand pretty much nothing about military stuff, well, I’m WAY out of my depth and comfort zone and pretty much, know no one who would be there.

And second, dress up?! Me?!  I mean if it’s not jeans and a t-shirt, then you most likely will not see me in it.  Seriously, I even wear them to church…okay, I throw a scarf on to dress it up a bit.  But this is a FORMAL event.  I mean, I saw the pictures from last year, the parents were in FORMAL, like prom dresses.  Who does that?  Who likes that?  Ok, I know it’s part of the military culture, I see enough Facebook posts of friends whose husbands are in the military, but really…me?

So I asked him…”do you want me to go?”  Hey, I remember this age, it was a really big toss up on whether I loved or hated my parents at any given time.  And the bottom line is, he wants me there.  He wants someone to witness his achievements, to smile proudly at him and to belong too.  (Yes, I threw all those words in, he just stumbled around on the yes.)  So I’m going… and it’s in a week!

What in the world do I wear?  I can promise you that there is NOTHING in my closet that will pass muster, not even close.  And unfortunately, I am a big girl so it’s not like I can just go borrow something from someone’s closet (ooh, I miss those days!)  So help me!  What does a mom wear to a son’s formal even that won’t a) break the bank, b) not be a complete waste of money since I hate the thought of buying something never to be worn again and c) doesn’t make me look like I’m trying to relive my high school prom days???


Just for fun, this is my prom picture from my junior year...I love reliving memories from pictures, but do not want to go there in real life!

Just for fun, this is my prom picture from my junior year…I love reliving memories from pictures, but do not want to go there in real life!


  • Reply Juhli |

    Do you have a Goodwill or other thrift stores near you? Call them and see if they have formals in stock. The thrift stores near me have tons of them as they are one wear items typically. Even if you need to get it altered it will be pretty inexpensive. Your lack of knowledge about topics others may want to talk about is not a problem if you focus on asking questions to get others to talk. Most people love to be listened to so make that your small talk focus and you will be fine.

  • Reply Shauna |

    Definitely check out goodwill and consignment shops. And I know around here there are a few stores that still have a few formal Christmas dresses on clearance.

  • Reply Mysti |

    Look up “plus size consignment shop”. Given your area…there is a naval base right there….I am sure there are appropriate items for sale. Enjoy your night out. Can you bring a +1, for moral support?

  • Reply Klm |

    What about a dress rental site? I don’t know what size range they usually carry but I’ve heard and read good things about them. Or if you have friends your size see if someone can lend you an outfit?

  • Reply Lisa M. |

    Yes on resale! Prom dresses are going fast, though, so go now, this morning, first thing. Even just a fancy top (think sequins which are fashionable) over a black skirt would work, and be a more frugal purchase. You can cut off a dress and make a top sometimes.

    Not many people are comfortable in social situations. More of them are faking it than you realize. If you focus on your child, you may be more relaxed. Remember it’s HIS event, and try to enjoy it for what it is.

  • Reply Den |

    Go and ask other parents questions – always a great conversation starter and a great way to understand the culture of the group. Just confess right up front that you are new to this and have never done this before. Try to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about your son….you’ll never reqret going! Also, whatever you find to wear, make sure you are comfortable in it – that will give you added confidence.

    • Reply Joe |

      This is spot on, the same mentality when I attend weddings these days. It turns out that no one really cares what I am wearing!

  • Reply Ashley |

    No idea about the dress and it looks like you’ve already gotten some good advice from others….but how am I the first to comment on your PROM PHOTO!?! I LOOOOOVE it!!! This is excellent! I love the shoulder poof and the big Texas hair! This is so fabulous!!! Weren’t these such fun times? Your son is blessed that you’re his +1 for such an important event to him! Make sure you get a photo just like this (only with your son instead of a date) for him to look back on in years to come!!! Good luck!

  • Reply Maureen |

    Formal does not have to be expensive or “stodgy.” See if you can find a dressy “black dress” at some of the places mentioned above. Dress it up with some cheap jewelry (the fake rhinestone kind from Claire’s or Charming Charlie). Even Target and Wal-mart sell dressy classic black shoes for under $30. Then, if you EVER need something like it again you can rewear and change the accessories.

  • Reply Noel Lizotte |

    When all else fails, go with black and white. Seriously, I know it sounds cliche but it works. Look for either a “little black dress” or a long black skirt, white blouse (tuxedo style if you can find one) and a black sparkly sweater would look great.

    and the advice about listening is spot on. Ask a question to get the conversation started: “I’m here for my son, who are you here with?” and then listen. or ask if they saw all the hub-bub this week about “the dress” … People love to talk (mostly) and they’ll think you’re a great conversationalist!

  • Reply [email protected] |

    Get thee to the thrift store! I buy formal dresses (I do folk dance as a hobby) there for usually $20-30. And I agree with Maureen too, if all else fails get a black dress and wear jewelry with it — the sparklier, the better. Necklace, bracelet, earrings.

  • Reply SAK |

    I’m plus size and I know thrift/consignment/etc can be very hit or miss – mostly miss. Look for a store called “Dress Barn” (hate the name). They have clothes in all sizes and they carry formal wear. Most of the dresses (even plus size) are under $100 and google for a coupon code – you can usually find one to print out for 10 to 20% off. Look for something neutral that you can change scarves/jewelry to change the look – you are likely to go to more of these things with him and no reason to keep buying dresses. They have a number of long skirts too – so may be able to pair with a top you have. A friend is a military wife – she kept all her dresses and since they moved every few years – they were “new” again at the next post.

  • Reply May |

    Ross or Marshalls. You can definitely find $20 formal dresses. A simple black long dress with a nice statement necklace would work well too.

  • Reply B |

    I am a military spouse and I can tell you that there will be ladies in everything from a nice dress to full-length formal dress. Some budget-friendly options are a nice blouse with a black skirt, hose and heels. Black can be dressed up easily with some jewelry. I would NOT go buy a formal gown for a one-time wear. This event is about celebrating these high school kids. No one is going to criticize your outfit. If it is a formal dinner much of your time will be sitting at the dinner table.

    As far as conversation goes with people you do not know, just ask questions about them and their kids. You will be surprised how easy it can be. Are you sitting with your son at the event? One recommendation, if there is not assigned seating with place cards, go to your table during the social hour and pick out your seat by putting the napkin over the back of the chair or leaving your wrap on the back of it. Nothing worse than the last minute scramble looking for a seat.

  • Reply Mary |

    I don’t think you’ll find much at Goodwill; I tend to see more formal dresses in smaller sizes there. Rent the Runway has dresses you can rent (you rent one dress and they send you two sizes and you ship them back when you are done and they dry clean them) but the last time I looked, they didn’t have very many plus size dresses however that may have changed. I had a black tie event to attend a few years back and found the best selection of formal dresses at Von Maur-their sale rack is amazing-I got a gorgeous black chiffon long dress for a formal marked down from $350 to $40. Considering the time frame, just google plus size prom dresses or formal dresses. I’ve seen many sites for plus size women at pretty affordable prices (google a coupon for a percentage off and a free shipping coupon before you buy and use ebates for more savings). What I’d recommend is that you purchase something with some detailing at the top near the face (if your dress has the detail then you won’t need jewelry) and simpler for the dress part. That way, after the formal event, you can take it to a tailor and have the dress shortened to knee length so you’ll still get some use out of it. Keep that in mind when you are looking online for the dress. Another option, is to purchase a sequined scarf (Joan Rivers has beautiful black ones on QVC for around $40 but you’ll be able to use it again and again for other events.) to dress up a plain black dress or even a black pant suit (if you feel comfortable wearing that to this event). Long term, it’s great to get a good quality black dress and good quality black suit that you can dress up or down and fully accessorize. Just keep your eye open and when you see a great sale on a quality item, snatch it up asap. That way, you won’t feel like you are wasting your money purchasing junky or cheap clothes in a rush when you have a formal event. (P.S. We’ve all been there at one time or another with nothing to wear so don’t stress!) Oh, you can also go on Pinterest and search plus size dresses-when you see one you like you can open it and it will link to the website. You can Pin it in a file as you look around. Pay attention to the comments on the dresses you are thinking of ordering.

  • Reply Jasmine |

    You’ve gotten lots of great advice on the wear, so I’ll chime in on the socializing. A while back, I went to a cookout for my boyfriend with his military unit. I’d never felt so welcomed or comfortable in such a situation. The military community can apparently be very welcoming and as others mentioned, people usually enjoy talking, so if you guide with questions, you should be fine. Have fun and congrats on your son’s achievements.

  • Reply Claire |

    Hi Hope
    As a big girl myself my suggestion would be a simple pair of black trousers, a dressy pair of shoes from a charity shop, and a fancy second hand top off of ebay. Paired with a nice scarf and some dress jewellery (borrowed from a friend) you could have yourself a really nice outfit for less than £10. If you lived in the UK I would be more than happy for you to have a rifle through my closest lol.
    Much Love
    Claire from frugal living xxx

  • Reply Alexandria |

    Did anyone mention Macy’s? I have found some great deals there in the past and have heard the same from others. Just another store to throw out there. Or take some coupons to Kohls. Macy’s would have more formal stuff and you might be able to hit a clearance. (& I think secondhand, Ross, Marshalls are also all great suggestions – all things that I would do – though I am not sure on the size ranges).

    Your post reminded me I went to some of these things when my highschool sweetheart was in Sea Cadets. The sad thing was that his parents could never bother to show up. I can’t tell you how priceless it is that you are willing to take your son, but I am sure you have an idea.

    P.S. LOVE the prom picture and the prom dress! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply becky |

    What size are you? I have a size 16/18 beautiful bridesmaid floor length gown I will send you!!! It is from my sister’s wedding last March. If you want it, just coment. I’m on the debt journey too, so I want to help a sister out!!!

  • Reply Jamie |

    I just want to give a suggestion that you dress to make yourself comfortable within the dress code of the event. My own dear mother is not a dress woman. She was willing to find a gown for our wedding, but ultimately opted for a pants suit. She was so much happier, and consequently enjoyed the event more. In her situation, we bought a dressier shell to wear under the suit separates. Also, I attend military events for work and have never once felt underdressed in a well fitting suit. Have a great time spend your cadet!

  • Reply Gwen |

    I second going to Dress Barn. My mother (size 12), my mother in law (size 22) and I (size 16) have found really nice formal dresses there.

  • Reply Walnut |

    Since you are a well rounded traveler, Hope, so you can steer discussions toward that angle. Ask others if they have traveled anywhere recently. Or use the idea to root for good stay-cation ideas if folks haven’t been able to get away.

  • Reply Mary from SC |

    How exciting. I know you are a proud mom. I have a beautiful Mother of the Groom dress I would be happy to ship you – if our sizes are the same. But I would say look for a pair of black “flowy” pants, pair that with a nice black top or jacket and through in some cheap but blingy jewelry. Keep it all in perspective. No one is going to be talking about what you wore the next day. They are all there to celebrate this exciting achievement for their children. Have fun and you HAVE to post pics of what you ended up wearing. So proud for you of Sea Cadet!!!

  • Reply Jean |

    Lots of great ideas here. Most formal wear stores will rent gowns/dresses, but I also like the fancy top/black skirt option (did that for my brother’s wedding 19 years ago – and even made the skirt!). And you can never go wrong with a little black dress that you can change out the accessories and wear for tons of different events. I’m not much of a crowd person, but you have something in common with these people, so use that as your starting point for small talk. Have a great time!

  • Reply Susan |

    Hope, You’ve got some great advice on finding a dress and I’m sure you’ll look lovely. Since I am very introverted, and cannot stand doing the small talk chit chat nonsense with strangers (or anyone), may I suggest that you bring a camera with you? When I bring a camera, I am free to wander the room, taking pictures of my child, the flowers in the room, the artwork in the hallway, anything to get me away from the “small talkers”. It even frees you up to sit in the lobby and scroll through your photos for an hour or so if needed. If it’s a 5 hour event, I usually force myself to do 30 minutes of talking with people I’m forced to sit with, and then I can EASILY fill the rest of the time by taking photos. You may even find a like-minded soul there who you can actually connect to instead of talking about the weather, traffic, or shoes. You’ll end up having fun – but it will be fun on your own terms instead of feeling like there’s a “group” you don’t belong to.

So, what do you think ?